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With BYU's West Coast Conference tournament run opening on Saturday against either Portland or Loyola Marymount, many bracketologists believe BYU is a win or likely two away from cementing an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. At least publicly, BYU head coach Dave Rose isn't buying it.
"I think we probably have to win the (WCC) tournament to get in," said Rose before his team's Thursday practice at the Marriott Center. "That's what our mindset is, so let's take this first game--that's the most important thing; control what you can control. The sure bet is that if we win (the tournament), then we're in a nice spot."
BYU heads to Las Vegas as the two seed in the ten-team tournament; the Cougars will face the winner of Thursday night's Portland-LMU first-round game in Saturday's quarterfinals. The semifinal round is set for Monday night, while the championship game will be played next Tuesday.
"I think we're in a great frame of mind," said guard Tyler Haws. "We've had a few tough challenges this year that have made us get in the right mind-set, and I feel like this team is tournament-tested.
"We know what to expect, we know the challenge and now it's just about executing and doing what we know. We feel like we have a lot of basketball left to play; we're hungry and we know what to expect going into Saturday."
"We're as ready we can be," guard Matt Carlino observed on Thursday. "We don't want to leave it up to somebody choosing whether we're going to be in (the NCAA tournament) or not, so if we can just go win those (three WCC tourney games), that would be great."
Both Portland and LMU own a regular-season win over BYU; the Pilots outlasted the Cougars 114-110 in triple overtime at the Chiles Center, while the Lions beat the Cougars in both teams' conference opener at Gersten Pavilion in late December. BYU defeated both teams in their visits to the Marriott Center.
"They both cause different problems," noted Rose. "Portland's got a really strong front line, deep front line, and causes problems with some good shooters. Loyola Marymount is very athletic, and they turn you over. We'll just have to find out who we're going to play, then try to prepare for it."
BYU enters the WCC tournament having gone 13 years since its last conference tournament title--the 2001 MWC Championship, won at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas (in a year UNLV was ineligible for the postseason tournament). Rose is mindful of the drought, but refuses to over-think the process.
"First thing you've gotta do is win the first game. If you (eventually) get to the championship game, you need to win the championship game, and then you end up with the tournament championship.
"We've been through all these stages, except actually winning the championship game. So, hopefully we can win the first game, then get to Monday and see what happens. There are no guarantee. You need a lot of guys to play well for three straight games. You can't do it with one or two guys. Hopefully the roster here is up to the task.
"These tournaments are really different than a normal regular season game, and hopefully the young guys will be able to catch on really quick. There is a lot of emotion, a lot of urgency, a lot of energy...it's pretty intense. It's great; it's what guys look forward to."
You can hear pre-practice interviews with Rose, Haws, Carlino and guard Kyle Collinsworth in "Cougar Cuts," above left.
BYU will face either Portland or LMU in the WCC tournament quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon at approx. 3:30 p.m. MST; the game can be heard on KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM and BYU Radio (SiriusXM 143), and seen on BYUtv.